In August 1914 Lord Kitchener was the newly-appointed Secretary of State for War. He foresaw a long struggle ahead and on that basis, and within days of the outbreak of war, he issued his famous appeal for volunteers.
The following extract from the Cambrian Daily Leader November 19th 1914 shows how early some of our local men joined up :
“Llandovery and District. The following have been received by Major Stewart DSO Llanfair Llandovery for the Regulars: Walter Edwards, Llwynbrain, Wm. Thomas, Llwynybrain, Thomas Rees, Llanwrda, Ernest Sweeney, Cynghordy, D.R. Evans, Llandovery, John Carroll, Waterworks Llanddeusant, J. Davies, Royal Oak, Pumpsaint, Thomas Torbitt, Pumpsaint, D.V. Lewis, Rhandirmwyn, WE. Hyatt, Rhandirmwyn, Daniel Kelly, William Murphy, A.B.C. Freeman, Llwynhowell, Llandovery, H. Payne, Llandovery, G.H. Roberts, Llandovery, T. Garritz, Llandovery, H. Giles, C.A. Postell, Dolauhirion, Edgar Seward, T.W. Gothard, F. Small, W.H. Llewelly, The College Llandovery, I Andrews Llwynybrain, Llandovery, Geo Corpse, Pelan, Telych, Llandovery.
And this was just the beginning.
A complete (as possible) list of our local heroes including those who managed to return home after the War can be found on the Llandovery Roll of Honour also produced by Llandovery History Society.
With so many men being away at the front, it was inevitable that women would do what they could to help. Before the war the role of women in the town was largely confined to the home. Now they were needed! and they did much more than knit comforts – they kept the town, their families and friends and their lives knitted together, waiting for the return of their men.
Nearly 18,000 charities were established during the war, with one of the most popular causes being “comforts” which included clothing, books and food.
For many women knitting and sewing became a part of daily life again as the UK textile industry could not keep up with demand. In 1914 Lord Kitchener called for volunteers to make up the shortages – they needed 300,000 pairs of socks and 300,000 woollen belts for the troops to use by the beginning of November!
This was not the first time that knitting had been associated with war. It started with Lord Raglan who, on losing an arm at the battle of Waterloo, asked his tailor to devise a more comfortable sleeve style that we still use today.
Lord Cardigan famously allowed his men to wear jumpers under their uniforms, which with no lapels, could not be seen inside their jackets, but still kept them warm.
In 1854 the Battle of Balaclava was raging and knitted helmets were made for helmet liners – these of course became later known as Balaclavas.
Many local women already had their own financial and emotional hardships. Still, they formed knitting groups making woollen items for the Welsh Troops, fund-raised continually, saved money, cared for Belgium Refugees and ran the local Red Cross Hospitals. They also helped to run the town and provided support for those at home.
An appeal written to the Editor of the Carmarthen Journal in December 1914 read :
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, decided that the Welsh Army should have Welsh-speaking officers, and its own Welsh Grey Uniform made from Brethyn Llwyd cloth.
Thirteen Welsh Mills were contracted to produce the Brethyn Llwyd cloth, the Cambrian Woollen Mill being one of them.
Unfortunately, every Mill came up with their own shade of grey! This was due to the cloth being made from the wool of black sheep and each Mill experimenting with their own compositions and manufacturing process.
In fact, the uniforms produced for the 11th Battalion Welsh Regiment from the cloth were so brown that the Welsh Soldiers were nicknamed “The Chocolatle Soldiers”.
Only 9,000 Brethyn Llwyd uniforms were ever made – and there were over 50,000 Welsh volunteers.
It was a disaster.
As late as April 1915 our Welsh recruits were parading in their own clothes, or if they were lucky, in surplus postmans uniforms.
Knitting became an essential element of the war effort – it kept fighting forces warm, boosted morale among the men and gave a meaningful occupation to these who were desperate to do something to help. Wartime knitting may have had a feminine image, but it was not timid. What started as a response to small gaps in uniform supply became a mass knitting frenzy.
The resulting gloves, socks, mittens and balaclavas became affectionately known as “comforts”. In World War I the volunteer make-up of the British army – the fathers, sons and brothers who went to war – drove the craze for civilian knitting. Garments were to fortify civilian soldiers against harsh winters and a hostile enemy; hand-made knits comforted body and soul on the western front.
And the women of Llandovery did their bit whilst they sought to bring some humanity to a brutal and unpredictable war. On the following pages we have printed out extracts taken from the 1915 – 1916 Llandingat Parish Magazine which details some of their work.
MU & GFS War Working Party February 1915 “We are glad not only to have cleared the adverse balance of last year, but to have a balance of 4s. 6. in hand, in addition to the half proceeds of the concert, £7 4s 6d., so kindly organized by the Rev. Ifor James. In additions to subscriptions we have received very large parcels of socks, etc., from Miss Price, Mrs and the Misses Rees and Miss Lewis, Myddfai. Mrs Daniel Jones gave a flannel shirt, Mrs Septimus Price a body belt, Miss Lizzie Morgan Cwmrhyddanm, socks, &c., and other parcels have been received. We particularly thank Miss Ruth Hurrell for her faithful attendance at the classes, and the number of socks she and her mother have knitted. Very many who were not able to attend the classes have worked very hard at home. We have received so many letters of thanks from mine-sweepers, sailors in the North Sea, soldiers from France, Gallipoli, Egypt. Etc., that we are not able to publish them. Nearly all thank “the ladies of Llandingat Church War Working Party, and wish them all success in their good work”.
Another Extract showing how gratefully received their articles were :
MU & GFS War Working Party. January 1916 “A large parcel has been sent to the head-quarters of the British Red Cross Society, and the following letter has been received :- Dear Madam I am instructed by the Executive Committee of this Society to acknowledge the receipt of the generous gift of the Llandovery War Working Party. The Society is glad to be able to assure you that the articles you have sent are badly needed by the sick and wounded and will be highly appreciated. They will be divided amongst the sick and wounded lying both in the Military Hospitals abroad and in our Hospitals in Great Britain. I hope to dispatch a large proportion of this gift to the front in a few days.
I am yours faithfully
FRANK HASTINGS, Secretary
Another large parcel has been sent to the Canadian troops on Salisbury Plain who are soon going to the front, but we have not yet received an acknowledgment. A third parcel is nearly ready to be sent to the Navy ; we are waiting for a few more garments to be finished.”
Do you recognize any names from this extract ?
We publish this week the balance sheet of the War Working Party. The collection at Col. Goodwyn’s lecture included £1 from Mr. Pryse-Rice, 10s. from Mr. Mervyn Peel, and 10s from Mr. Smale. The proceeds from New Year’s Social and G.F.S. Social were given in money and kind. Mrs. Perry Herrick sent £1, Miss Griffiths £1, Miss James 10s,
Mrs Poole Hughes 10s., Mr. W.H. Jones 5s., Mrs Morgan (Llwyn), Miss Barrett, Miss Smale, Mr Michael, and many others, also subscribed to these socials, and a very great number sent refreshments to the new year’s social.
The War Working Party owes much of its success to the valuable work done by Miss Thomas. She not only gave wool and made garments at home, but she worked without ceasing at every meeting, giving out wool and flannel, taking collections, and packing up and receiving shirts, socks etc., every week, packing away and finally sending off parcels. This giving out so many ounces of wool was no easy task and we all are most grateful to her.
We thank Miss Mable Evans for making up so much of our materials, also Mrs Richards (Depot), Mrs Lewis (Copper Beech), and Mrs J. Edwards, also Mrs Hatley for cutting out shirts, Mrs Lanaghan and Miss Bellman for storing work and machines and Mrs Lanaghan, Mrs Tom Jones, Mrs J. Edwards, Mrs Warrie, Mrs Howells, Mrs Davies (Ystrad), Mrs Williams (Llwynybrain), and Miss Thomas for the splendid work they did at home as well as for their most regular and encouraging attendance at the working parties all through the wet winter months.
We thank Mrs F. Lewis for her generous contribution of wool, 10 pairs socks and 6 pairs mittens, Miss Lewis, Myddfai, for 6 pairs socks and 2 scarves, helmets, etc., and Mrs Clarkson for 10s for wool to make socks; shirts, scarves, helmets and mittens were also given by Mrs Norman Owen, Mrs Davies, Mrs Daniel Jones, Mrs Dan Davies Miss Evans (Bryntowy), Mrs Rees (Vron), Mrs J. Edwards, Miss Lizzie Reese, Miss Nina Davies, Miss Howells, Mrs Street, Mrs James Miss Margaret Harries, Miss Edith Butler. Very many others worked at the meetings and at home and sent several articles but their names are too numerous to mention.
Over 300 shirts and comforts were made – 60 were sent to Lady Jellicoe for the Navy (more particularly to H.M.S Superb, if required), others were sent to the Red Cross headquarters, some to Mrs Vaughan for the Canadian troops, and over 100 pairs of socks for our brave Llandovery men who have so nobly responded to the call of the King and Country.
The deficit of 13s. 1d, will, we feel sure, be made good by some of our friends who have not yet contributed to the War Working Funds.
We have just received to the following:-
Lady Jelllicoe acknowledges with grateful thanks the generous gift from the Llandovery Church War Working Party for our sailors
In the United Kingdom, which was one of the last to abandon the system, money was referred to as pounds, shillings, and pence, (pence being the plural of penny).
Under this system, there were twelve pence in a shilling and twenty shillings, or 240 pence in a pound.
The black mountain sheep (Defaid Mynydd Duon), is wholly black, small and hardy with no wool on the face or legs.
This sheep produced the wool that David Lloyd George wanted to use for his special welsh uniforms. No doubt the wool was used by the women on a grand scale for their knitted comforts.